Malcolm Gladwell’s Favorite Hedge Fund Manager Implicated in Ginormous Securities Fraud

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04/19/2010 1:44 PM |

Hmm... Aha!

  • Hmm… Aha!

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against Goldman Sachs, charging that the investment banking firm sold its clients a mortgage-based security that was designed to fail, so that another client, a hedge fund run by John Paulson, could profit handsomely for betting against it.

John Paulson is already quite famous for foreseeing the coming rupture of the housing bubble, and investing (and harvesting cash) accordingly—as you know, if you remember Malcolm Gladwell’s ode to the man, published in the New Yorker this January.

Gladwell’s piece was about entrepreneurship, and how successful “predatory” businessmen are more cautious than you think. (Gladwell is very good at telling his readers what their preconceptions are. The point of the piece, about successful businesspeople being risk-averse, is oversimplified and not particularly revelatory and fairly inconsequential, all things considered.)

One of his examples was Paulson, inspired by the publication of a recent book about how he went against the tide of the bubble-driven market and, through his predatory caution, ultimately made money while all about him were losing theirs. This was perhaps a dubious deed to celebrate, but Gladwell loves stories about people who break with established patterns of behavior, and so Paulson’s opposition to the dick-swinging herd mentality of the market in general is celebrated as a triumph of the free-thinking underdog hero:

Perhaps [predators] are sufficiently secure and confident that they don’t need public approval. Or perhaps they are so caught up in their own calculations that they don’t notice. The simplest explanation, though, is that it’s just another manifestation of their relentlessly rational pursuit of the sure thing.

What a great story! Except, you know, for the part where he designed a security to foist on other people so that he and his partners could rake in profits from a downfall which, through deception above and beyond the usual “predatory” business practices.

We’ve seen this from Gladwell before: the use of morally charged language to make a better story, and damn the obvious implications. He’s a moral idiot, enraptured by narrative and blind to pretty much everything else. That one of his precious outliers ended up being a con man just underlines the point.